The Value of Shared Leadership
Last Friday, Tim Whitmire and I had the honor of being invited to the United States Military Academy at West Point by the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. Our host, Captain Andrew Bond, had seen a report about F3 on NBC’s “Today” and noted how F3 had “stumbled upon” the military academy’s theory of Shared Leadership. I put that in quotes, because it is no accident that F3’s leadership model reflects the bottom-up model embraced by the Army.
Our day started at 0530, with Tim and I joining a group of academy instructors for interval training. Although we do a lot of running in F3, it was all we could handle to stay with this group of officers, whose ranks ranged from captain through colonel. Clearly the commitment to Fitness at the academy is every bit as strong as it is in F3.
After the workout, we sat in on the same class three times, taught by three different instructors in three very different ways. Each of these men is a veteran of the Global War On Terror who brought his own unique perspective to the subject matter of the day: Shared Leadership. At its essence, Shared Leadership is a model based upon diffused authority and decision making exercised through the members of a group rather than by a single leader, which is the more traditional model.
In this way, Shared Leadership harnesses the talents and energies of multiple group members rather than depending on a single person. For it to work, we learned from our instructors that three conditions must be present:
- The group members must be competent.
- There must be trust between group members and the primary leadership.
- The group members must share a common set of values.
Our Leadership philosophy, which we sharpened in F3 and teach to a wide variety of groups through The Iron Project, is remarkably similar. Our basic premise is that a Group comprised OF Leaders is far more effective than a Group WITH Leaders.
For us, Competence—the ability to perform mission-essential tasks—is an indispensable leadership characteristic.
Likewise, Trust—reliance between team members—is a primary tenet of teamwork.
Finally, values—what we call Virtue—the individual behavior, habits and ethics that are beneficial to a group, lie at the heart of our model of purposeful leadership. If a leader lacks virtue, it doesn’t matter how effective he is, because the group will likely suffer at his hands.
At the outset of this post, I alluded to the fact that our leadership model looks a lot like the one taught at West Point. That is because F3 and TIP are a synthesis of what we embrace as best methods from a variety of sources, including (unsurprisingly) our military. If it works for someone else, we try it. If we then find that it works for us, we embrace it. We are a Leadership Laboratory that does not believe in reinventing wheels that are rolling true for others.
Shared Leadership is another one of those great wheels.